A report in early 2018 stated that India’s research and development (R&D) spend stagnated for 20 years at 0.7 percent of GDP. Much lower than the US (2.8), China (2.1), Israel (4.3) or South Korea (4.2). About three-fifths of the government’s investment in R&D is spread over the key government science funding agencies in segments such as atomic energy, space, earth sciences, science and technology and biotechnology. Not only is there a dearth of researchers in India, but as per recent reports, the number of patents filed from the country has fallen from 40 percent to 15 percent in 2015-2016.

This is a startling scenario, in a country where population numbers are rising, disease burden is rising and so is air pollution and its many side effects. It was only obvious then, to speak to a clinician scientist, Gagandeep Kang, Professor in the Department of Gastrointestinal Sciences at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, about the state of civic healthcare research in India and issues women researchers face. Professor Kang is an Infosys Prize (life sciences) awardee for her contributions to understanding the natural history of rotavirus and other infectious diseases. She is forthright in her responses and to me, this interview is an eye opener, as on the one hand, we complain about the lack of innovation in India and on the other, we hesitate to invest in innovation too.


What does the future of work mean in the area of research?

Research covers a lot of ground in many areas and within those areas, research does not mean the same thing to everyone — a public health researcher and a fundamental biologist look at scale and depth in very different ways. I cannot comment on all research, but in medicine and to some extent in biology, the future of research is outside the siloed approach to more collaborative engagement across different disciplines, because it is no longer possible for one person or group to have the in-house expertise to use all of the tools available.

Are there any specific challenges for a woman in science and research? Do you think there are enough women in the field?

I do not think that women in science and research have any more challenges than other working women. Doing well in any field requires commitment and time, and that is true whether you are an athlete or in business. There are not enough women in any field, except perhaps some components of healthcare, such as nurses, and faculty in the pre- and para-clinical fields of medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology and dermatology. Is this because these are fields where men do not want to work or because they are viewed as ‘more suitable’ for women? I think a lot of factors play out in creating work environments where women are well represented.

Why should we invest more in researchers and how do we build capacity?

No nation advances without science. Every economically developed country in the world invests heavily in science, with governments as key investors in more fundamental science and industry, leading to more application-oriented research and development. We need to understand this and ensure that we strengthen education from early stages to late for a pipeline that produces enthusiastic, curious and skilled young people.

What are the futuristic areas in research?

Hard to say in all fields, but in medicine, personalised medicine where prediction of disease risk early will help change behaviour, and target screening, regenerative medicine and new therapies through engineering immune responses, all supported by a level of analysis at the organism, tissue, cellular and molecular level that was not possible before and integrated using computational tools.

What skillsets do researchers require?

Curiosity, passion and a willingness to constantly learn and question. A commitment to rigour, and an ability to absorb failure and keep going.

What are some best practices globally to recruit more researchers?

The best researchers seek out big and difficult questions. To do that, researchers need manpower and resources to be able to work on problems for as long as it takes. So recruitment efforts that offer support (the longer term, the better) and some freedom for exploration are more likely to succeed.

How can research become more mainstream?

That is a hard question, but perhaps recognition that no society advances to a future, better state without research.

What are some of the futuristic areas in public health?

Delivering preventive, promotive and curative health to the individual, not having the individual come to the public health system. It sounds simple, but requires a host of tools for screening, prevention and treatment as well as behaviour change and monitoring, all tailored to each person’s needs.


Can people switch careers mid-way and become researchers?

Absolutely, in medicine in particular, an unresolved question arising from the experience of dealing with patients draws many doctors into attempting to discover answers.

Are researchers paid enough?

To some people, salaries matter, and to others, satisfaction with the work they do, matters more. For me, the opportunity to do what I love is a privilege and the salary is secondary. There are many who use opportunities for better financial remuneration through patenting and entrepreneurship, and that is commendable.

Nisha Ramchandani is the principal author of 'The Future of Work' series. 


Published Date: May 30, 2019 06:05 AM | Updated Date: May 30, 2019 05:05 PM IST

Tags : #Entrepreneurship #future of work #Gagandeep Kang #Leadership #medical research

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